There were no science books on the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for 2016. Nor in 2015. Nor 2014. Bomb in 2013 was sort of a science book, so we’ll count that. And Moonbird that year certainly was. Yet it’s often surprising how consistently science and nature get overlooked when they’re handing out awards for nonfiction. According to my sources, science writers are complaining about this fact, and with good reason. When you create an award for nonfiction and then hand it consistently to biographies, you are, however unintentionally, sending a message.
On the children’s side of things the Robert F. Sibert Medal fares a bit better. In 2016 none of the books were science or nature related, but in 2015 we had Neighborhood Sharks and in 2014 Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore actually took home the Medal itself with Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate getting an Honor. You go, Sibert committees!
In their honor, I dedicate today’s list to the lovely science and nonfiction books that were published in 2016 with a hat tip to Melissa Stewart for inspiring me to do this list in the first place.
2016 Science and Nature Books for Kids
FICTION PICTURE BOOKS
Honoring those books willing to add a little science and nature in their mix. Extra points for backmatter.
Ada Twist: Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Unless I’m much mistaken, she’s still topping the New York Times bestseller list in the picture book category. I’ll give you some moments to take in the vast implications of this. Pairs particularly well with the upcoming film Hidden Figures.
Baby Loves: Aerospace Engineering!/Quarks! by Ruth Spiro, ill. Irene Chan
I defended this to you when I put it on the board book list, and I’d willingly do so now. Don’t just assume that due to their format these are meant solely for babies. It’s a kitchy idea that yields a lot of plum rewards. Big concepts are broken down for young people. I can get behind that.
Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer & Adam Schaefer, ill. Frann Preston-Gannon
It’s the ciiiiiiircle of liiiiiife . . . and it mooooooves us alllllllll . . .
Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline
Apparently coyotes roam my own neighborhood’s streets in the summer. I’ve never seen them, but I’m willing to believe it. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous with a surprisingly gripping text, this is sort of like a more fictionalized version of the aforementioned Neighborhood Sharks, only this time with coyotes. In hindsight, I should have put this on the readaloud list too. GREAT readalouding.
Faraway Fox by Jolene Thompson, ill. Justin K. Thompson
The book follows a single fox blocked off from its fellows by a highway. Humans construct a tunnel under the road for wildlife and the fox is reunited with its kind. Information appears at the end about the real world tunnels, how they are constructed, and some of the challenges they fact. The art, for the record, is also a real draw here. Luscious.
Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau & Deborah Hopkinson, ill. Meilo So
The only Meilo So book out this year? Nope, there’s one coming up later (see if you can guess what it is). Here, a girl attempts to save loggerhead sea turtle babies from man-made light, which means she has to engage in some pretty serious activism. A very cool story, and one I’ve not seen told before.
From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott
This pairs particularly well with . . .
Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet, ill. Karen Lewis
. . . this book. Both cover evolution to a certain extent. This scrappy little Kickstarter title covers ground that few books have on evolution.
Mad Scientist Academy: The Weather Disaster by Matthew McElligott
Not a lot of good weather books out this year. This one’s filling a 2016 gap.
Octopus Escapes Again by Laurie Ellen Angus
I’m oddly partial to this adorable book and the creature behind it. Always makes me think of this stranger still video, of course.
Olinguito, from A to Z! / Olinguito, de la A a la Z! by Lulu Delacre
Sure, it’s an alphabet book. Sure it’s bilingual. But it’s actually a really delightful trip into the cloud forest to talk about “discovering” a new animal. Drills home to kids the fact that this is still being done today, barring the destruction of said cloud forest.
Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London, ill. Meilo So
It’s the second Meilo So title on this list today! Hooray! And otters basically just sell themselves. In writing this part of today’s list I just wasted a lot of time watching otters on YouTube for inspiration (have you seen the one of the baby sleeping on its mommy?). In any case, this lives up to its subject matter.
NONFICTION CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins
I just recommended this book to a colleague looking for a book to give to a 7-year-old who loves facts and figures and animals too. Couldn’t have come up with anything better! Plus, it’s where I learned that the peregrine falcons that nest on my library every year are the fastest birds in the world.
A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston, ill. Sylvia Long
This is a long-standing series but it doesn’t appear to be slowing down in any way, shape, or form. Distinctly fabulous.
The Deadliest Creature in the World by Brena Z. Guiberson, ill. Gennady Spirin
I’m a sucker for a Guiberson/Spirin combo any day of the week. Actually, I’m a sucker for Spirin, period, but his work with Guiberson over the years has never produced a melon. Plus, how do you top that title? Answer: You don’t.
Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet by Nikki Tate
I was blown away with this book. Seriously floored. You go into it thinking it’s just another gee-aren’t-trees-great title and what you get instead is this enormously in-depth, serious consideration of how they contribute to the earth. We’ve all heard the statistics on how much oxygen in the atmosphere they produce, but this was the first children’s book I’ve ever read that attempted to explain precisely how their root system works. I’d listened to a RadioLab episode (From Tree to Shining Tree) that explained this and I’m still shocked by the implications. Well done Ms. Tate for filling this book with such pertinent, incredibly up-to-date information!
Dining With Dinosaurs: A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching by Hannah Bonner
I’m not just sticking this on here because I need a dino title. Trust me, my library shelves are good in that area. But this took a distinctly deep and delightful look at a topic I would have told you had already been covered. Turns out, not so much. A must-add.
Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle? by Corinne Demas & Artemis Roehrig, ill. John Sandford
I honestly thought the book was just going to start with fiddler crab and then move on to other animals with evocative names. Nope. Demas and Roehrig are in it for the long haul. The long fiddler crab haul. Good on them!
Feathered Dinosaurs by Brenda Z. Guiberson, ill. William Low
Because you can’t have enough dinosaurs. Or enough Guiberson, for that matter.
Flying Frogs and Walking Fish: Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-Propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways That Animals Move by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
I’d cut that title way way down, but that’s the only thing I’d cut from this highly engaging title (plus it’s always great to see Jenkins and Page working together again).
How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani
I put this on the math list not too long ago, but it’s also a really interesting, very young, science title. When you consider how much each animal weighs, you find yourself having your assumptions consistently challenged. Math and science = best buds.
I Am NOT a Dinosaur by Will Lach, ill. Jonny Lambert
My college, for whatever reason, owned the skeleton of a giant sloth. I remember seeing it for the first time on display, just utterly baffled by what I was looking at. Sloths were giants once? If you’ve a kid, hand them this book and they’ll be able to know this information far sooner than my sad college-aged self.
If You Are a Kaka, You Eat Doo Doo: And Other Poop Tales from Nature by Sara Martel, ill. Sara Lynn Cramb
That title’s gonna turn off a bunch of folks right from the start. Maybe that’s not the worst thing, since it really is a book entirely about poop. That said, it’s not gross about it. I mean, there are gross things in it (one word: smearing) but they’re presented in a very matter-of-fact way. If you buy only one poop book this year . . .
My Book of Birds by Geraldo Valerio
Shockingly lovely from start to finish. A science picture book coffee table book, if you take my meaning.
Natumi Takes the Lead: The True Story of an Orphan Elephant Who Finds Family by Gerry Ellis with Amy Novesky
Such a good story, and a good readaloud too. I’d normally avoid any book that traipses this close to anthropomorphism but Gerry and Amy are very careful to place everything in terms true to a baby elephant. Could actually work as a graduation gift picture book as well, come to think of it.
Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand
Not solely about the blobfish, alas, but still worth your time thanks to the sheer number of facts packed into these pages.
Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch, ill. Mia Posada
A cute premise. Shows all the different ways that plants get up and go go go!
The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond
Though it’s not sourced properly (no backmatter to speak of) this is still a truly gorgeous book. It’s the kind of title you can use to either sate the polar bear needs of a true fans, or lure other readers into adoring.
Prairie Dog Song: The Key to Saving North America’s Grasslands by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
The prairie, its life, its history, and its possible future are all discussed in this beautifully rendered little book.
The Toad by Elise Gravel
I’m a big fan of all the Gravel series titles. Of the titles out this year, the toad stole my heart. Maybe because I used to catch them in my backyard as a kid. Maybe just because this book’s the funniest.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I had no idea what a Great Auk even was before I read this book. Or, for that matter, that they were gone. Sometimes it feels like the passenger pigeon and the dodo get all the press. Poor auks.
Under Earth / Under Water by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski
Leave it to the Polish to do something this cool. My kids just dive into this book (no pun intended) since there are so many tiny elements to adore. Again, no backmatter to speak of (European nonfiction titles have that in common) but still awesome. And huge!
What Milly Did: The Remarkable Pioneer of Plastics Recycling by Elise Moser, ill. Scot Ritchie
Ever stop to consider the fact that recycling plastics is a relatively new idea? How did it get officially started by vast numbers of cities around the country? A little old woman figured it all out. I love unexpected heroines.
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate
I’m keen on unexpected heroes too. This book is great because it shows that you don’t have to come up with polio vaccine to be considered an inventor. Plus this guy (A) made something cool and (B) is still alive! Once in a while you get a kid in your library who has to check out a bio on someone still alive. Now you’ve an ace in your back pocket.
Whose Eye Am I? by Shelley Rotner
Look them in the eye and tell them you’re not interested in this book. Go on. Tell them.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books